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Defending Rhonda Grant: the rationale behind the release 

[Cross-posted] I finally came across the full text of the press release attacking Massey University over its story on its alum , ’s second runner-up.
   You can read the statement from the Association of University Staff’s president, Assoc Prof Maureen Montgomery, via Scoop. I think she was pretty persistent, sending it out to the NZPA as well as other —she really disliked the story.
   It’s a shame Dr Montgomery has received anonymous hate mail over this today, when her release is filled with good targets for debate.
   I respect her right to hold an opinion and I think she was right to circulate it, but I wonder just how it might benefit the Association of University Staff, or any institution promoting tertiary issues.
   A lot of the arguments are addressed in our own release, which director Val Lott asked me to write. I was more than happy to put the record straight, something that Dr Montgomery gave me a good opportunity to do.
   You can tell Dr Montgomery failed to do what I thought academics should do first and foremost: get sufficient evidence and maintain an open mind.
   The story on Rhonda Grant was no better and no worse in quality terms than the puff pieces about alumni on the Massey University website, so we know she has been singled out.
   Dr Montgomery writes, ‘Massey’s story reads like the formulaic sort of thing that aspiring beauty queens are expected to say when interviewed on the catwalk.’
   As I said in our release, the reality is the interviews are tough—and there are no expectations of formulaic answers at Miss New Zealand.
   I defend the pageant because I know how tough the judging got: Rhonda was allowed to talk about nutrition, and other contestants were quizzed about everything from the moral repugnancy of bank charges to genetics versus socialization, depending on their university specialization.
   ‘One might expect a university public relations office to do more than piggy-back off what comes across as a publicity statement produced by the Miss Universe organisation,’ she said.
   Publicity statements from the Organization seldom focus on second runners-up but, whether we like it or not, Massey has engaged in . We might argue over the quality.
   I share some of her concerns over but I believe that was sufficiently addressed when Rhonda’s bikini-clad photograph was removed from the Massey University website in favour of something more conservative.
   Once that was done, then the complaint really is a case of the lady protesting too much, unless all alum puff pieces are equally, to use Dr Montgomery’s word, ‘banal’.
   And as deep journalism, maybe that’s not unfair—but it should apply fairly to all puff pieces, not just Rhonda’s.
   If it were couched in such terms, I would gladly stand by her.
   Dr Montgomery’s complaint on Rhonda’s piece specifically might be better directed at government educational policy that has supposedly bred a generation of sex-obsessed high school graduates who might find Rhonda Grant’s figure the reason to join Massey University.
   Actually, on the of youth, I would also gladly stand by her.
   But for now, as a colleague here at said to me today, ‘You have to ask yourself: what does Maureen Montgomery get out of it? It’s none of her business. Why has she been allowed to be involved?’
   I suppose the answer comes, rightly or wrongly, from the stances of liberal universities around the world, and Dr Montgomery’s own informs them. It helps the profile of the University of Canterbury, where she works, and cements its liberal position.
   My own father equated Dr Montgomery’s release to ’s outburst on The View against Miss Nevada 2006 and : ill-considered, narrow-minded, poorly investigated and founded on opinion.
   Where Dr Montgomery and I do share some basic views is how images can shape agenda. I know this. I publish fashion magazines. Let’s not kid ourselves.
    She wrote, ‘Massey University has provided an excellent example of how the desperation to market universities as “attractive” places to gain knowledge and transferable skills intersects with the use of the sexualized female body as a site of desire.’
   There is an element of truth to such statements, but I question if university choices are made based on attractive alumni—even with my rant yesterday on sexualization.
   When I went to university, I had far more pressing concerns such as degree programmes and career prospects.
   Vitally, we are talking about a story that is hard to find on the Massey University site—a site that had proxy errors in the small hours of this morning that rendered it inaccessible. If it were not for her own strong and widely disseminated disapproval, it would have been seen probably by a few dozen people—perhaps one prospective student.
   I’d personally have saved the energy for when universities started putting out alumni swimsuit calendars.
   By all means, speak out—I do on even lesser issues. But consider the effect of the publicity: right now, it seems Rhonda Grant is going to be promoted to national stardom on Close-up and Campbell Live, and the pageant will get coverage on the same day Miss New Zealand Samantha Powell did her Good Morning interview on One. Earlier today, Paul Holmes promoted this as a major item on his radio show in Auckland.
   We couldn’t have dreamed of this profile.
   This has played into the hands of the pageant exceptionally well and, as a judge, I thank Dr Montgomery, even if I do so somewhat selfishly.
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I cannot believed this professor woman was shocked that Massey would use such things to promote themselves. I'm sure there was a time that they were places of high academic excellence, but in my experience, they are fairly insular worlds where people either spend a lot of time partying or patting each other on the back (or both)

Dumb choice of photo (a bikini?!?), still not 100% convinced on pageants but figure this is no different from celebrating the success of some jock who only got to uni on the back of his sporting prowess... And I'm sure they do that regularly without controversy.  
Yay, I have a real person commenting instead of the 400-plus silent Feedburner subscribers! It’s true universities can be insular and institutionalized places and not very learner-focused. True, the original photograph was inappropriate and made Massey’s aim a trifle too obvious and the article itself was no more banal than any puff piece done there (or at any university, I’d say, including Dr Montgomery’s own). It’s 2008, after all, and we shouldn’t expect Pulitzer Prize winners in alumni newsletters.  
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